Minnesota River - Western Minnesota

Yellow Medicine, Chippewa, Redwood, and Renville counties

This is a summary of places we visited on a trip to the Minnesota River Valley in western Minnesota in the area loosely between Granite Falls and Morton. Carved by the massive Glacial River Warren the landscape in this area contains outcrops of rocks formed over 3 billion years ago. This rocky landscape provides a unique habitat that is being lost to granite mining, housing, and recreational use making these Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA) and Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) vitally important. The Minnesota River Basin Data Center contains a load of info pertaining to the Minnesota River. The areas we visited were within the Hawk Creek, Yellow Medicine, and Middle Minnesota Watersheds.

Our May 2022 visit to the area involved a combination of pursuits and we were willing to just explore the area without focusing for a long time in any one place. Additionally, we both found ourselves without our tick-prepared clothing and, therefore, weren't highly motivated to wade too far into taller grasses. The order below is the order that we traveled. Starting at Blue Devil Valley Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), we headed south through areas west of the Minnesota River. We then swung east to Morton Outcrops SNA and made our way north along the eastern side of the Minnesota River, hitting a number of SNAs and Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and finally ending the tour loop at Gneiss Outcrops SNA. . My observations for 16 May 2022

Blue Devil Valley SNA | Granite Falls, Yellow Medicine county, MN | 27 acres

The habitat of the site hosts Prickly Pear Cacti and one of the state's largest known populations of the Common Five-lined Skink. Any wooden or metal cover boards that are present on the site should not be disturbed as they are used to assess the distribution, habitat use, and movements of the Skink. There is a small parking area (for 1, maybe 2 cars) off the road. Like all SNAs, there are no maintained trails or facilities. Parking: N44 48.097, W95 32.994

Visited 16 May 2022; 8:30 am : We walked a few yards in and birded there for 15-20 minutes. Observed : Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, House Wren, Yellow Warbler. Saw in ponds nearby: Tree Swallow, Hooded Merganser, Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal.

Links for Blue Devil SNA: MN DNR | MinnesotaSeasons | eBird Hotspot reports | eBird Checklist | iNaturalist Point of Interest | iNaturalist Project | MN DNR Bulletin: Site Highlight

Various Locations, Yellow Medicine county, MN

Farm Fields: Recent storms day before our visit had flooded quite a few farm fields with the possibility of seeing migrating shorebirds in them.
Links for Yellow Medicine county: eBird Recent Visits

Tyson Lake: The lake can be viewed from county roads or at the Public Water Access at the intersection of 150th Ave and 560th St. (NE corner of lake)
Links for Tyson Lake: eBird Hotspot reports | eBird Checklist: Tyson Lake

Echo Water Treatment Plant (WTP): An access road runs east from 600th St (just south of 150th Ave). There weren't any 'no trespassing/private property' signs until one reaches the gate surrounding the treatment ponds.
Links for Echo Water Treatment Plant: eBird Hotspot reports | eBird Checklist

Visited 16 May 2022; 9-10:15 am : Flooded Field - We happened upon an Upland Sandpiper in a flooded/muddy farm field just feet from the road. Tyson Lake - There were American White Pelicans visible from the road. At the public access to the lake, we saw/heard: Mourning Dove, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, and Yellow Warbler. Some people fishing had caught a Black Bullhead that they let me photograph, as well. It was a pleasant place to have a bite to eat and walk around but it wasn't a great birding/naturing spot. Echo WTP - In the week prior, a Wilson's Phalarope and Smith's Longspur had been seen at the WTP but we didn't find them. We did see: Killdeer, Savannah Sparrow, Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Bald Eagle, unidentified shorebird, and a Bald Eagle flying overhead.

Morton Outcrops SNA | Morton, Renville county, MN | 15 acres

"This site has outstanding biodiversity significance, supporting one of the state's largest and highest quality examples of Crystalline Bedrock Outcrop Prairie" (MN DNR, link below) Rare species found here include the Regal Fritillary butterfly, Prairie Bush Clover, Wolf's Spikerush, and Fox Snake. There’s a hotel and gas station at the intersection of US Hwy 71 and MN Hwy 19 with a very large parking lot. Entry to the SNA is at the SE corner of the parking lot just of W Ledge St. The DNR website says to ask permission from the hotel to park there but we didn’t and we were so far from the functional parking lot for the hotel, I doubt there is much concern on their part for us to have parked there. Close to W Ledge St,, there is an old double track vehicle trail along the SE edge of the park. The rest of the SNA has minimal to no footpaths.

Visited 16 May 2022; 12-12:15 pm : We walked up the old vehicle track and then over to the highest point of the outcrops but not any further. With the late spring, there wasn't much in the way of plants yet (in the small area I walked) and we didn't observe many birds other than a Robin, some swallows and a couple of Common Nighthawks (which was a thrill for me). I did find some critter holes that were about a foot in diameter (two spaced some feet apart) and some lichen on the rocks.

Links for Morton Outcrops SNA: MN DNR | MinnesotaSeasons | iNaturalist Point of Interest | iNaturalist Open Space | iNaturalist 2020 Bioblitz | iNaturalist Project | Flickr album: "Morton Outcrops", photos by Joshua Mayer

Granite Prairie WMA | Beaver Falls Township, Renville county, MN | 192 acres

This site "protects numerous exposed granite outcrops, remnant native prairie, existing and restored hardwood forested areas, several wetland/shallow lake structures, [as well as] nearly 1.1 miles of aquatic habitats along the Minnesota River shoreline" (Heritage Council Report - link below). Leading from the gate, there was an old vehicle road that led into the property. It appears on Google maps that this old road skirts a pocket of hardwood that contains a streak of rock outcrops and around the perimeter of the property. But these old roads won't be maintained and it doesn't look like a heavily visited area so it's unsure what the condition of these tracks will be over time. There's a small parking area for maybe 1-3 cars.

Visited 16 May 2022; 12:45-1:45 pm : We literally stumbled upon this WMA as we drove past and saw the sign. We walked about a third of a mile in and saw Clay-colored Sparrow, Hyssop, Blue Phlox, Swainson’s Thrush, European Carp spawning, Gray Catbird, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow Warbler, and Great-crested Flycatcher. I've since added the site to Google Maps which might make others more aware of it. We always love a back road and these didn't disappoint.

Links for Granite Prairie WMA: MN DNR | Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council Final Accomplishment Plan Report (2011) | iNaturalist: approximate area of Granite Prairie WMA

River Warren Outcrops SNA | Flora township, Renville county, MN | 89 acres

Located within a meander of the Minnesota River, this fairly new SNA (2016) contains dense wooded bedrock outcrops, a floodplain forest, riparian habitat, and former agricultural land being restored to prairie. Species found here include Plains Prickly Pear, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Rock Spikemoss, Brittle Pricklypear, Prairie Fameflower, Rusty Woodsia. Like all SNAs, there are no maintained trails or facilities. Ample off road parking for at least a half dozen cars. Parking: N44 37.973, W95 10.970

Visited 16 May 2022; 2:30-2:45 pm : I walked along the eastern boundary with grass on the SNA side and a line of trees on the private property side. About 500 feet in, there are patches of hardwood trees with a pond just beyond them. I did not walk further than 500 feet in. Being mid-afternoon, it was hot, I was tired, there wasn’t much wildlife activity to be found and I wasn’t motivated to spend much time here. I saw an American Kestrel, heard Blue Jays and House Wrens, and photographed a few sedges and a Furrow Bee - mostly to document that we had visited the spot.

Links for River Warren Outcrops: MN DNR | MinnesotaSeasons | eBird Hotspot reports | eBird Checklist | iNaturalist Point of Interest | iNaturalist Open Space | iNaturalist Project

Swedes Forest SNA | Belview, Yellow Medicine and Redwood county, MN | 207 acres

Sacred Heart granite outcrops which dominate the landscape of this SNA provide a unique environment for species such as Wolf's Spikerush, Roundleaf Water-Hyssop, Common Five-lined Skink, Brittle Pricklypear, Rock Spikemoss, and Rusty Woodsia. Although there are no maintained trails, there is maintenance road that leads from the parking area for a half mile. (The DNR website doesn't use an apostrophe in 'Swedes'. The iNaturalist site does, however.) Off road parking will hold a few cars. Parking: N44 41.562, W95 22.110

Visited 16 May 2022; 3:30-3:45 pm : It was getting later in the day and we'd been on the road (and briefly on the trail) for 7 hours at that point. But this spot was one of the favorites we visited that day. The landscape was beautiful and I wished we would have visited it earlier in the day when the birds might have been more active and we might have been more willing to hike further. We didn't stay long but we saw Canada Goose, Great Egret, Field Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, American Goldfinch, Painted Turtle, Mining Bee, and a soaring Red-tailed Hawk.

Links for Swedes Forest: MN DNR | MinnesotaSeasons | eBird Hotspot reports (Yellow Medicine county) | eBird Hotspot reports (Redwood county) | eBird Hotspot reports (Yellow Medicine county) | eBird Checklist (Redwood county) | iNaturalist SNA Point of Interest | The Photonaturalist (Sparky Stensaas): Swedes Forest SNA blog entries | Flickr album: "Swede's Forest", photos by Joshua Mayer

Gneiss Outcrops SNA | Granite Falls, Chippewa county, MN | 234 acres

Plains Prickly Pear and Brittle Cactus can be found on the site as well as an assortment of lichen growing on the rocks. One of the DNR designated parking areas on Cty Rd 40 (the one currently shown on Google Maps) is not very safe, traffic wise. It is recommended to pull over and park on the north side of 170th St at N44 46.461, W95 30.357. See MinnesotaSeasons (link below) for more info. Like all SNAs, there are no maintained trails or facilities. It sounds like it can get wet in places and during certain times. One may need to have waterproof footwear at hand.

Visited 16 May 2022; 4:15 pm : So, it had been a full day of touring and hiking. We were a bit hot, pretty dusty and thirsty and this was to be our last stop. As we pulled up to the precarious pull over parking spot, I spied a tick on the car door next to my elbow. We had a comedic turn as we tried to get the tick off the door (with it open, of course), having it fall into a crevice, having to dig it out - all while parked just inches from the road on a curve overlooking a bluff. Needless to say, when we were done with the tick, we were kind of done 'naturing'. We took a moment to look at the rocks next to the parking area then got back in the car and drove back to the hotel - eager to get out of our clothes and into the shower. I realized two things later. 1) I completely forgot to take any photo to serve as an observation of the spot. My goal is to always make an iNat observation of something... anything to commemorate places we've visited. I made a casual observation (without a photo) of the tick. 2) My prior research had revealed that this was not the best place to park (details above) but I had completely forgotten about it but I doubt we would have spent much time there anyhow at the end of the day. Ironically, this SNA was the initial impetus for us visiting the area in the first place. The rest of the stops were all 'add-ons'. I don't think we were there for longer than 5 minutes and 4 of those were spent digging the tick out of the crevice!

Links for Gneiss Outcrops SNA: MN DNR | MinnesotaSeasons | Explore Minnesota | eBird Hotspot reports | eBird Checklist | iNaturalist Point of Interest | iNaturalist Open Space | iNaturalist Project | Marshall Independant Newspaper article: Gneiss Outcrops SNA | Flickr album: "Gneiss Outcrops", photos by Joshua Mayer

Julkaistu kesäkuu 7, 2022 06:15 IP. käyttäjältä mmmiller mmmiller


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